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By Stevan Spegeher

A television camera or camcorder has become a common fixture in the church sanctuary. It may be used to record the service for later distribution via DVD or video service such as YouTube or Vimeo. It may provide the basis for live streaming of the service via the internet and/or providing a video feed to the lobby, nursery, or overflow rooms. Churches with a large sanctuary may place the image on large screens to give a closer view to those in the back rows.

Adding one or more cameras to the arsenal propels the media department into a whole new dimension of both problems and opportunities. Questions immediately arise such as:

  • what cameras to purchase,
  • how many cameras do we need,
  • where do we place the cameras,
  • do we use remote controlled cameras or use live operators,
  • what equipment do we use to switch between cameras,
  • when and how frequently to switch,
  • what kinds of transitions do we use, etc.

The answers to these questions are as varied as the churches and their philosophies and personalities. This article and perhaps one or two subsequent ones will attempt to guide you into making the correct decisions for your church and avoiding costly and embarrassing mistakes. Let’s deal with these one at a time.

Do you need more cameras, and how many?

There are many perfectly valid reasons for adding more cameras, but what are yours?  As a media director, this process will add a level of complexity to your life, so don’t approach it casually. Do want to add visual interest to the screen shots during worship?  Do you want to give a more professional look to the videos viewed away from the sanctuary? Do you want to avoid jerky, distracting shots as a single camera operator attempts to follow a moving target, such as an energetic pastor?  Your answers to these will help you to determine your next step. A second camera will go a long way to meeting these goals. A third camera adds additional benefits, but adding beyond that starts the process of diminishing returns — helpful, but only marginally so compared with the extra expense and operational complexity.  Budget, of course, rears its ugly head in this matter as it does in any expansion of a media ministry.

What type of camera should we get?

There are actually two questions to answer here. First, manned vs. remote pan, tilt, and zoom. Coming out of the broadcast arena and after 40 odd years in church media, I have a strong, personal preference for manned cameras. Remote cameras can reduce the need for personnel, but they usually require the director to operate all of the cameras as well, and that never produces the smooth, professional results you’d probably like to achieve. The joystick controls have never satisfied me as to precise control and smoothness. There are mounting issues also that we will discuss in an upcoming point. There are, however, circumstances where this might be the right decision for you.

The next question deals with the cameras themselves. Prices range from less than $1000 to over $100,000.  If you already have a camera and are happy with it, you might want to consider buying more of the same. The one thing to check is the output. Most video switchers require either an HDMI or an HD-SDI input. Make certain your cameras provide the signal that your switcher requires. Most consumer cameras will have an HDMI output, but the HD-SDI usually don’t appear until you’ve paid more than a few thousand dollars for a camera.

It’s very important that both or all of your cameras are identical, if possible.  Getting matching colors and resolution from different makes and models of cameras is difficult if not impossible.

Unless you are a huge mega church with an unlimited budget, it will be difficult to justify spending more than $4,000 to $5,000 per camera. It takes a trained eye to detect the quality improvement from these cameras to ones costing $100,000 or more. The extra cost usually buys only extra features that most churches don’t need anyway.

Earlier we mentioned the need for a switcher to select which camera is being viewed at any time. These will range in the $1,000 area, from a little less to a lot more. It might be wise to seek the input of a consultant when making a decision. The most important part is the matching of the formal of the camera’s output to the switcher’s input.

Planning ahead and making wise decisions can help avoid frustration and wasting of money. Consider not only the current need but potential future expansion as well.

Summary

Now that we’ve given some tips on deciding whether to add any additional cameras and how to select them, you’ll need to decide where to place them and how to use them to enhance the ministry of the church. Those topics will be covered in part two. In the meantime, if you’d like to contact me, you can do so through my website, www.speheger.com.

Here is a related article to check out: How to get a Better Video Image

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